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Work Samples

Bilaam/Balaam and His Talking Ass

The ass can see the angel in the road before her, and so she stops.  But he prophet, set on cursing the Israelites against God's will, cannot see the angel and beats his loyal ass.  Thus God makes an ass of the prophet and a prophet of the ass
Bilaam (Balaam) and His Talking Ass The full story is in the Book of Numbers, chapters 22-24. The ass can see the angel in the road before her, and so she stops. But he prophet, set on cursing the Israelites against God's will, cannot see the angel and beats his loyal ass. Thus God makes a prophet out of the ass, and an ass out of the prophet. The Angel here is transparent, it is to the right of the she-ass’s head. You can tell she is female by her eyelashes and lipstick.

Purim Masquerade! (Quilt)

The quilt tells the story of the Book of Esther and the Jewish Holiday of Purim.  Because the story takes place in ancient Persia, and Purim is a Masquerade holiday, the quilt itself is masquerading as a Persian rug.
The quilt tells the story of the Book of Esther and the Jewish Holiday of Purim. All the elements of the book are in the quilt from the royal treasury, to the diverse women taken into the royal harem, to wine, costumes, and more. Because the story takes place in ancient Persia, and Purim is a Masquerade holiday, the quilt itself is masquerading as a Persian rug.

Creation Day 4: The Creation of Time

A seven-sided 6 foot tall quilt depicting the cycles of time, including the seasons, months, weeks, days, hours and minutes
Day Four (Yom Revi’i) Inspired by Maariv Prayer-Moving outward from the center, we see the fundamental cycle of time, day and night, the seasons, the months of the year illustrated by a Jewish holiday or Torah reading, the months marked by their corresponding constellations, the weeks of the year labeled with the weekly Torah portion in Hebrew beadwork, the traditional Psalm of the Day for each day of the week with quotations in sometimes playful English beadwork. The binding on the outer edge shows clocks for the hours and the minutes of the day.

Ezekiel 37: Valley of the Dry Bones (Quilt)

Valley of the Dry Bones- The text from Ezekiel 37 is also the inspiration for the song, "Dem Bones."
Valley of the Dry Bones- The text from Ezekiel 37 is also the inspiration for the song, "Dem Bones." To the left of the prophet Ezekiel are the dry bones. They come together each bone to the next, as in the song, then muscle, sinew and flesh grow on them, and they return to life. The bones, says God, represent the Israelites, they appear to be down and done for, but "I will bring them back to life, bring them into the land, and they will know that I am God."

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About Joanne

Howard County

Joanne Heiligman's picture
 "The Old Will Become New and the New Will Become Holy" Rabbi Joanne Yocheved Heiligman  has become known for her Biblically themed art in fabric and mixed media over the past 15 years.  Her subject matter spans the centuries from  ancient Biblical texts to current political topics.  She guides the viewer past the "thee's and thou's" of traditional translations to bring Bible tales back to life. The written word acquires place, face, and a vibrant lived meaning by... more

Immigration Debacle

The Immigration Debacle: Are the waters parting or crashing in?

A country without borders is no country, but the inhumane conduct of our nation’s current assault on illegal and legal immigration and asylum seekers, particularly innocent children, is a shameful episode in our nation’s history. We are, or should be, better than this.

Families have been torn apart, or are incarcerated in internment camps. Children were taken from their parents with no records kept. Some “deleted children” may never be reunited with their deported parents. Six children have died in custody. Detainees have been denied adequate medical care, diaper changes, flu shots, and hygiene supplies. There has to be a better way. This is not the America I know and love.

Because the spiritual insults come out incident by incident, we forget the shock of last week’s, last month's, and last year's news. This piece puts it all before us at once. Clearly, for immigrants the struggle for redemption has not progressed enough to be included as a Parting of the Sea and so it stands alone.

The Creation Series

Science and religion do not have to oppose one another. I do not presume to tell God how to do God's job, and if kicking off the Universe was done with a Big Bang, I have no problem with that. So the Creation Series begins before our planet was formed, with the residual microwave light from the Big Bang as perceived by the COBE telescope, and represented visually in pink for the hotter places and blue for the cooler ones. From there, the series engages back and forth with the Biblical account, DNA and microorganisms, and playfully, and anachronistically includes a dinosaur in the Garden on the sixth day.

  • Creation: The Prequel

    Creation: The Prequel In order to see the Universe before the creation of the Earth we need to look back in time.
  • Formless and Void, Chaos and the Creation of Disorganization

    "Tohu VaVohu" The chaotic state of matter in the beginning
    The chaotic state of matter in the beginning. Here the necessary elements of the world, DNA, chlorophyll, light, etc., are present but lacking order and purpose. It corresponds to the un-formed blue marble at the bottom of the Prequel quilt.
  • Creation: Days 1-4

    Starting at the bottom, this piece shows the Torah's story of Creation combined with some of what science teaches as well. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, and the earth was formless and empty, and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the spirit of God hovered over the waters, and God said, "Let there be light," and there was light, and it was evening, and it was morning, Day One. Then God said, "Let there be an expanse of sky to divide between the waters above and the waters below”...But wait!
  • Creation Day 4: The Creation of Time

    Sun in the center & moving outward the seasons, the months year illustrated by holidays or Torah readings and stars, weeks  by phases of the Moon
    The Sun is in the center, and moving outward are the seasons, the months of the Jewish year illustrated by holidays or Torah readings, the months illustrated by the corresponding constellation, the weeks of the year illustrated by the phases of the Moon, labeled with the Torah portions in Hebrew, day and night, the traditional "Psalm for the Day" for each day of the week, and on the binding clocks show the hours and minutes of the days. This piece was inspired by the poetry of the Maariv prayer in the evening service, and ties in with the creation of the heavenly bodies on the fourt
  • Creation: Day 5

    Here are the water and air creatures, Day 5
  • Creation: Day 6-- Land Life

    Garden of Eden
    Wildlife from all over the world appear in a Garden of Eden setting. A dinosaur makes a "cameo" appearance, it is out of time and place, but dinosaurs had to go somewhere. Adam and Eve are embroidered, everything else is appliquéd onto a pieced background.
  • Creation Day 7: The Heavens and Earth were completed and all they contain

    The solar system
    The heavens and the earth were completed, and all they contain. I made a point of including the Anne Frank asteroid, thanks to Ted Stryk for that photo, it seemed appropriate for a Jewish quilt.
  • Creation on exhibit.jpg

    Overview of the Creation Series on exhibit in Lovely Lane United Methodist Church's Brannon Chapel.
    An overview of the Creation Series on exhibit in Lovely Lane United Methodist Church's Brannon Chapel. The seven sided Day 4 piece was displayed on the curved stage to the left, and so is not seen in this photo. The Flood is on the right, and several other pieces are in the foreground including the Towers of Babel and Babble on the right and the Partings of the Seas on the left.
  • Entire creation series.jpg

    The entire Creation Series (to date) with Day 4: The Creation of Time on the far left
    The entire Creation Series (to date) with Day 4: The Creation of Time on the far left
  • Day 4 detail.png

    Close up of the center of Day 4: The Creation of Time, depicting the interplay between the heavenly bodies of Space and our perception of Time.

The Partings of the Seas

I was contemplating how powerful and inspiring the story of the Exodus has been to so many different peoples, in so many different times and places. The Midrash on the Exodus, rabbinic "fan fiction," so to speak, says that when the sea parted, every body of water in the world parted as well. Here, the Seas part for
Moses and Miriam leading the Israelites,
Harriet Tubman leading the Underground Railroad,
Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr. leading the Montgomery Bus Boycott
Delores Huerta and Cesar Chavez leading the United Farm Workers walking off the fields for the Lettuce and Grape Strike
Several leaders of the anti-Apartheid movement in South Africa
Diverse couples and families leading the way to LGBTQ liberation
The March for Our Lives
I wanted to include immigrants headed toward the Statue of Liberty and American liberty, but the Immigration Debacle started while I was working on this piece. I could not bring myself to create the segment I had originally intended and I had make that a separate companion piece. It remains unclear whether the waters are parting or crashing in.
The project contains over 2000 Guatemalan worry dolls, as well as many I created myself and numerous props to tell the story.
Each liberation takes place on its own unique path as seen by the pavement in each section.
The project was created over a period of two and a half years, but the Immigration Debacle, unfortunately continues to evolve. I have had to add, God help us, two children who died in ICE custody, then four more, then the father and daughter washed up on the Rio Grande.
The America I love is so much better than this.

  • Overview of the Partings of the Sea

    Overview of the Partings of the Seas
  • Moses and Miriam and the Israelites

    The Israelites pass through the parted waters. The women dance with Miriam in the foreground. Moses stands with his staff held up. The stragglers at the back. This includes children, animals, and the elderly, riding on a camel cart. The stragglers are depicted because they will be attacked in the next chapter by Amalek.
  • Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad

    Harriet Tubman leads the Underground Railroad. The runaways hide behind vegetation, ride a small boat, and make their way to freedom. Again, they dance in the foreground. In the back is civil war artillery, and Abraham Lincoln on the left.
  • Montgomery Bus Boycott

    People boycott the Montgomery buses and travel on foot, by bicycle, motorcycle, taxi, cars, in the back of pickup trucks, and the empty city buses run with few riders.
    Rosa Parks wearing her prisoner number, and Martin Luther King Jr. with his Bible lead the Montgomery Bus Boycott for equality and respect. The boycott was a turning point in the struggle for civil rights in the US. The successful boycott lasted a year, during which time people got to work any way they could, many walking many miles ever day. Here they travel on foot, by bicycle, motorcycle, taxi, cars, in the back of pickup trucks, and the empty city buses run with few riders.
  • United Farm Workers Strike and Boycott

    The United Farm Workers walk off the fields on strike for better pay and working conditions. The strike was supported by boycott of grapes and lettuce. Cesar Chavez and Delores Clara Fernandez Huerta led the strike. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
  • South Africa Apartheid

    Protesters and actual signs from the fight against Apartheid. Anti-Apartheid leaders of various races and religions are depicted. In the back of the section, people are divided by walls into "black", "white", and "colored," and the pavement below them is too. As the people are more integrated in the front, so is the ground beneath their feet.
  • LGBTQ Pride

    LGBTQ Pride and civil rights. The sign reads, "Love Makes a Family." This is also a clearly diverse crowd, including a person in a wheelchair, military members, and people of all ages and races.
  • March for our Lives

    The piece features actual signs from the March, the Margery Stoneman Douglas Students, and Martin Luther King Jr's then 9 year old granddaughter, Yolanda Renee King. Our young people want the freedom to go to school in safety.
  • Immigration Debacle

    The Immigration Debacle depicting family separation, parents separated from their children, children held in cages, teens in tents, families in detention, "deleted children" who may never be reunited with their families, would-be immigrants from "shithole" countries, "nice immigrants from European countries," the converted Walmart, graves of children who have died in ICE custody, Jeff Sessions, Trump with his own immigrant wives and his golden toilet.
  • Debacle Aerial Detail.jpg

    Aerial detail of the Debacle

Biblical Art

Biblical and religious themes including good and evil, familial relationships, romance, abuse of power, ostentation, hope, health, aging, and death, and the search for what is true and enduring are all as relevant today as they were 2000 or more years ago.
I think of my work as a visual commentary on the Bible. A written commentary slows the reader. My work similarly slows the viewer so they will see new meanings and not skim over a text too quickly.
The people of the Bible were not living with technology, but they were just as socially and emotionally sophisticated as we are. It is a mistake to think of them as primitive.
Whatever one does, or doesn't believe, the influence of the Bible on our thought, society, and legal systems endures. An appreciation for it, whether as literature or sacred scripture, can help us see ourselves and our society more clearly.
The most repeated commandment (Mitzvah) in the Torah is “Do not oppress the foreigner, because you were foreigners in Egypt.” It appears at least 36 times.

The Israelites also faced issues of freedom and oppression, abuse of power, arrogance, and the search for awe and wonder, and meaning in the world.
I hope that my work will encourage people to see the world in a new light, to fire the imagination about how life, art, spirit, and intellect can illumine each other.

  • The Flood (Quilt)

    The tiny ark is tossed about on the raging, stormy sea
    "The Flood" depicts the loss of life on the left, the tiny ark amid the raging seas left of center, and the rainbow reflected in the water on the right. From the stormy skies lighting shoots down into the days and nights of rain, the sea has sprays of water coming off the surface toward the viewer, the fountains of the deep, sea life, and a touch of sparkle give the effect of the motion of the water. This is not the Noah's ark story for the baby's nursery. The Flood was a terrifying event.
  • Busting Out of Egypt: The Parting of the Sea

    The Israelites pass through the parted waters. Disoriented fish at  the parted water swim vertically.  The refugees flee from slavery and the plagues, and the pursuing Pharaoh and chariots caught in the crashing deluge behind them.
    The Israelites are passing through the parted waters. The disoriented fish at the surface of the parted water are swimming vertically. Behind the refugees are images of slavery and the plagues, and the pursuing Pharaoh and his chariots caught in the crashing waters. Moses stands with his staff in the foreground of the parted water on the right, on the left at the base of the column of water are the tablets of the 10 commandments waiting on a mountain top. The people are headed toward the land of (sheep's) milk and honey.
  • On Eagles Wings #1 and #2 (Fabric on Canvas)

    Illustrating the verse, "You have seen how I bore you on wings of eagles and brought you to Myself (Exodus 19) The eagles are carrying crowds of people on their wings.
    Illustrating the verse, "You have seen how I bore you on wings of eagles and brought you to Myself (Exodus 19) The eagles are carrying crowds of people on their wings.
  • Valley of the Dry Bones

    Ezekiel 37-The Valley of the Dry Bones God showed Ezekiel a vision of the resurrection of these bones reassembling themselves into skeletons, then growing sinews, flesh and skin. Finally God brought the winds from all directions to breathe breath into them, and they came alive. The explanation in the Bible is that the bones represent the people of Israel. Though they appear to be dead, they will live again and return to the Promised Land.
  • Welcome Back! --Valley of the Dry Bones Revisited

    Three still-partially-bony women are being resurrected at the Valley of the Dry Bones contemplate their revival and its significance
    A companion piece tonEzekiel 37: Valley of the Dry Bones Created in honor of a friend’s miraculous recovery after her medical chart said "Sudden cardiac death." She awoke a day and a half into a three-day induced coma on the eve of Hanukah. So the beadwork on the quilt echoes the dreidl motto, "A Great Miracle Happened Here." The other women respond, "Halleluyah" and "Now What?" Clearly, she has more to do in this world. By God's grace, 11 years later my friend is still with us and doing well.
  • David's Harp (Quilt)

    David’s Harp: A Story of Transgression and Teshuvah, Sin and Repentance The story is told in images and beadwork from the upper right, clockwise around the image of David’s Harp, and concluding on the upper left. Bath Sheba is bathing in the center, previously hidden the strings of the harp. Text: 2 Samuel chapter 11
  • Bilaam aka Balaam and His Talking Ass (Quilt)

    Bilaam's ass can see the angel in the road before her, and so she stops.  But he prophet, set on cursing the Israelites against God's will, cannot see the angel and beats his loyal ass.
    The full story is in the Book of Numbers, chapters 22-24. The ass can see the angel in the road before her, and so she stops. But he prophet, set on cursing the Israelites against God's will, cannot see the angel and beats his loyal ass. Thus God makes a prophet out of the ass, and an ass out of the prophet. The Angel here is transparent, it is to the right of the she-ass’s head. You can tell she is female by her eyelashes and lipstick.
  • Psalm 8: What is Humankind that You are mindful of us? --Two Views

    Two versions of Psalm 8, one full of awe and humility, the other full of ego
    On the left view, a "fabric sketch" study for a more serious future piece, two little people stand in awe on Earth in the lower right corner and contemplate their place in the Universe. "What is Humanity that You are mindful of us, yet You have made us only a little lower than the angels." In the snarky self-aggrandizing version on the right, humanity thinks we and our accomplishments are the pinnacle of creation. The snarky version twists the text of the Psalm.
  • Mizrach: Psalm 113:3 (Silk painting and pieced fabric)

    A sunrise illustrating the verse from Psalm 113:3 "From the rising of the sun, to its going down, praise the name of the Holy One."
    From the rising of the sun, to its going down, praise the name of the Holy One. A Mizrach is hung on the Eastern wall of the home to indicate which way to face in prayer.

Installation Art

Using found objects, toys, a sense of humor, and a fanciful approach to the Biblical text, these pieces bring familiar and unfamiliar tales to life.
The Ancient Tower of Babel and the companion 21st Century Tower of Babble ponder the power of cross-cultural communication, and our contemporary lack of face to face communication.
The Covenant of the Pieces takes a strange prophetic vision and reimagines it set in the 20th century on a street with a pickup truck, and in the 21st century in a yoga studio.
The actual Biblical story is important as it sets up the conditions of the covenant between Abraham and God that will require 400 years of slavery from Abraham's descendants before their liberation and the Exodus. That in turn sets up my project, "The Partings of the Seas."
Psalm 8 is depicted in it's awe-filled original, and in a "snarky," arrogant, human centered re-write.

  • Babel-Staircase side with Nimrod on Top

    The Tower was built from bottom to top, so the lower level is communication through cave paintings, then heiroglyphs, then ancient alphabets then the dispersion and confusion of languages
    The Tower was built from bottom to top in chronological order. The tower presents the progression of communication from cave painting, to hieroglyphs and ancient alphabets, a blank layer depicts the confounding of languages. The blocks then say "Huh?, What? I don't understand" in numerous languages. Then humans learn one another's languages. In our time, knowing Hindi, Spanish, Mandarin, or English enables one to communicate with half the world.
  • 21st Century Tower of Babble

    The 21st Century tower is populated by diverse people, but all are on their phones, ipods, computers, or pads, with earbuds in their ears, and none are communicating with each other.
    This is the contemporary Tower of Babble. The story follows the Flood, seen here in the background. The 21st Century tower is populated by diverse people, but all are on their phones, ipods, computers, or pads, with earbuds in their ears, and none are communicating with each other. Not even the father with a child on his lap, both have their own screens. Even the Sefirot, the space photos representing aspects of the Divine, are not communicating with each other and are not in their expected arrangement.
  • Psalm 8 Revisited, or "Snarky Psalm 8"

    Humanity's outsized view of our place in the Universe and our own deluded grandeur upon shallow self-reflection The text reads: Wow!

Papercuts

Multi-layered papercuts are a medium with which I have been experimenting for many years. The oldest one here, Belshazzar's Feast: The Handwriting on the Wall was done in the mid 1980's. The intricate Ketubbah (Jewish wedding document) was done in 1994 and includes woven layers.
I started working from photographs a few years ago making human and animal portraits.
Papercutting is a medium that is particularly transportable, so I like that I can do it while traveling.

  • Daniel and Belshazzar.jpg

    Belshazzar's Feast: The Handwriting on the Wall
  • "Joy"

    My Golden Retriever, Joy
  • Bill Murphy's dogs.png

    Two of Maryland's top sheep-herding Bearded Collies
  • Barack Obama Papercut

    I apologize that I do not know the name of the photographer from which this was done
  • IMG_0395.jpg

    My son, David
  • Ketubbah.jpg

    My own Ketubbah, Jewish wedding document.
    My own Ketubbah, Jewish wedding document. I did the calligraphy in time for the wedding, but was so busy that I could not illuminate it at the time. So four years later I added the paper cut as a anniversary gift. The calligraphy is on a goat-skin parchment.

Mixed Media

A Triptych on the Shattering of the Ten Commandments.

  • Black Fire on White Fire: The Shattering of the Tablets. (Mixed Media)

      Black Fire on White Fire: Mount Sinai and the Golden Calf Mixed Media Triptych 2019
    The holiest of objects, the Tablets inscribed by the finger of God, and the unholy Golden Calf, in which idolatry is fused with materialism, are two things that cannot share the same space. It is like a matter/anti-matter explosion, neither object will survive. The Tablets are shattered, the calf is ground to dust, fed to the idolators, and thus turned into feces. In Exodus 24:9 ff we read: Then Moses went up, with Aaron, Nadab, and Avihu, and seventy elders of Israel, and they saw the God of Israel.
  • Pavers and tablets.jpg

    The tablets, written on two of the pavers below the Throne of Glory, tumbling down toward Moses's waiting hands
  • Aaron's excuses

    On the lower right: Aaron has no plausible explanation for the calf. He says, "I just tossed the gold into the fire, and out came this calf." Moses doesn't even respond to that.

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